Pride & Prejudice (U)<br></br> With Blood on my Hands (18)

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The good news is that there's nary a whiff of Quality Street to Joe Wright's film. And given that this is a Working Title production, it's a relief that Austen isn't, as one might have feared, appropriated as the benign godmother of rom-com. Visually, at least, this is a much earthier Austen than we've been used to seeing - at least, since Roger Michell's 1995 BBC Persuasion. Skins are sweaty and rufous, hats are battered and there's a positively Hogarthian vigour in the faces, not least in Donald Sutherland's grizzle-chopped, drawling Mr Bennet, who looks as if he's just shipped in with Captain Flint. The set pieces are bracingly boisterous, as the camera careens rubbernecking through hectic ballrooms, the Bennet girls shrieking to be heard over the din. There's even a touch of Robert Altman in the dynamics of the dialogue, although the film is at times too prone to nervous agitation, what with the ceaseless conniptions of Brenda Blethyn's Mrs Bennet, her daughters and attendant geese.

This is very much a director's film, and Wright has a keen eye for symmetry, colour and witty composition (four Bennet ladies crammed on a sofa). It's a richly art-historical production too, with elegant tips of its tricorn to Constable, Reynolds, Gainsborough and the director's namesake Joseph Wright of Derby. And there's no shortage of relishable casting: notably, Tom Hollander's abject Mr Collins, Judi Dench at her most fearsomely imperious as Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Kelly Reilly as a regally catty Miss Bingley. But what you don't get, however, is much dramatic sustenance, and the central romance suffers from a fatal absence of chemistry. Matthew MacFadyen makes a rueful Darcy, probably uneasy at all that striding through rain in a billowing cape, and looking as though he's biding his time till he gets to play Mr Rochester.

As for Keira Knightley, there's nothing worse than the impression you're being coerced into falling for a film's star. The camera is preoccupied with her, but it doesn't really love her. She lacks the easy expressivity that some of her co-stars exude just by standing there; forever tossing off knowing grins and quizzically arching her swan-like neck, Knightley is out to present Lizzie as a no-bullshit rebel, but instead makes her look like a pleased-as-punch know-it-all. In the Austen league, then, the film is a worthy, handsome try, but falls far short of the dramatic coherence of Ang Lee and Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility. And now, how about a moratorium? Miss Austen has delighted us enough.

If you're allergic to decorum, of whatever century, try With Blood on my Hands, aka Pusher II, a furiously energetic vignette of Copenhagen low-life. Somehow director Nicolas Winding Refn has never found the cult auteur status accorded to some duller Danes - he's an abrasively idiosyncratic talent, and maturing all the time. This follow-up to his 1996 debut Pusher follows that film's loose-cannon skinhead Tonny (Mads Mikkelsen), as he leaves prison and tries to re-establish himself as an underworld player. Tonny has "Respect" tattooed on the back of his skull, but respect is the one thing he can never find, as he's subjected to endless humiliations - from his lizard-like crime-boss dad, from the contemptuous ex who presents him with a baby, and from the prostitutes who laugh themselves silly over his non-performance.

Mercilessly unglamorous and seedy in its depiction of the criminal milieu, Pusher II is brittle, at times cruelly humorous, and psychologically rich, managing to make a fairly loathsome thug into an almost sympathetic anti-hero - we find ourselves caught between rooting for Tonny and fearing that he'll do his horrifying worst. Mikkelsen's lead is a virtuoso feat of nervy underplaying, and the film wrongfoots us with an open ending that you might - just about, at a very tight pinch - read as redemptive. There's a Pusher III on its way, and if the completed trilogy doesn't place Winding Refn for once and for all in the hip hierarchy, then he might as well pack in the dark stuff and adapt Northanger Abbey instead.

j.romney@independent.co.uk

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